The books our Fellows loved in their youth

1 Mar 2018

To mark World Book Day, we asked our Fellows to pick out those books – fiction or non-fiction, literature, drama or poetry – that made a big impression on them growing up.
Here’s what they chose.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Cecile Fabre – Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford

Les Miserables

It’s both funny and a tear-jerker; it’s a multifaceted love story, a fantastic work of crime fiction, and a ringing condemnation of social, political and judicial injustice. One of the greatest novels ever!

The Little Grey Men by Denys Watkins-Pitchford

Charles Tripp – Professor of Politics with reference to Middle East, SOAS, University of London


The Little Grey Men

This is the story of the last Gnomes of England and their quest as three of them travel through the English countryside in search of their lost brother. As a child in rural Wales, I was drawn into a fantastical but perfectly believable world clearly connected to the fields, streams and woods I saw around me. These are wonderfully described in the book.

But the powerful effect of the book was to convince me that there was another world behind – or often below – the world I could see. This did make an impression – at the time it convinced me that I was always catching glimpses of the inhabitants of this world in the half light of the woods; it may also have had some influence on my conviction as a student of politics that surface appearances hide another truth.

The Haw Lantern by Seamus Heaney

Christine Bell – Professor of Constitutional Law, Assistant Principal and Executive Director, Global Justice Academy, University of Edinburgh

The Haw Lantern

As a teenager, I was lucky enough to hear Heaney read from the Haw Lantern when it was first published. I saw poetry with completely new eyes, bought the book at once, read it many times, and since then I have loved it and returned to it. Specifically, I have read ‘From the Republic of Conscience’ often this year, as it seems like a powerful answer to our chaotic times, and the values being casually trampled which we need to find a way to reclaim.’

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Michael Moriarty – Drapers Professor of French in the University of Cambridge and a Professorial Fellow of Peterhouse

The Great Expectations

I don’t know when exactly I started to appreciate Dickens’s humour: I think that came later. But when I first looked at this book and others of his, I was struck by his uncanny capacity to depict a child’s feelings. It was as if there was some knowledge he and I shared…

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Edwards – Professor Emerita of Photographic History, De Montfort University

North & South

Okay, Mr Thornton was an appealing romantic hero for a class of 14-year-old girls in the mid-1960s, but North and South introduced me to the dynamic complexity and density of the C19th. And although I had encountered Dickens, it was Mrs Gaskell – with her northern base, and questions of science, industry, politics, labour, religious beliefs, morality and the social – that resonated. I have returned to this book many, many times.

The Logic of Collective Action by Mancur Olson

Paul Whiteley – Professor of Government, University of Essex

The Logic of Collective Action

This book influenced me a lot when I was a graduate student in the 1970s. It drew attention to one of the most important issues in social science: rational behaviour by individuals can produce perverse outcomes at the collective level. This is one of the key sources of many contemporary problems, such as global warming, financial crises and conflicts.

The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller

Oliver Taplin – Professor Emeritus of Classical Languages and Literature, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Classics, Magdalen College

The Collossus of Maroussi

I read this when I was 17 or 18.  It undoubtedly heightened my awareness and increased my appetite for new experiences before I went to Greece for four months between school and university. The landscape and culture that captivated me in that time truly changed my life. I am sure that, without that heightened experience, I would never have become a scholar of Ancient Greek theatre, poetry and performance. 

Image credits:
Great Expectations: iStock user Grafissimo/British Academy Composite
The Colossus of Maroussi: iStock user Bitter/British Academy Composite
Les Miserable: iStock user FierceAbin/British Academy Composite
The Logic of Collective Action: iStock user Jayesh/British Academy Composite
The North & South: iStock user George Peters/British Academy Composite
The Haw Lantern: iStock user ilbusca/British Academy Composite
The Children’s Encyclopaedia: iStock user Frank Ramspott/British Academy Composite


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